KUWAIT NAVAL BASE, Kuwait -- The U.S. Army is widely recognized for its land dominance; for selective teams of Soldiers, however, the terrain they dominate is the vastly mysterious and volatile world under the sea.
U.S. Army engineer divers with the 511th Engineer Dive Detachment, 30th Engineer Battalion, 20th Engineer Brigade, plunged into the swift currents of the Arabian Gulf for a two-week diving exercise that concluded, Nov. 19.
The unit from Fort Eustis, Virginia, executed various diving techniques and certified diving supervisors in emergency protocol throughout the exercise, Operation Deep Blue, enhancing the team's overall readiness and ability to support U.S. Army Central missions.
"Although we are a small detachment, our impacts are profound on the strategic level," said 1st Lt. Grant Rice, the executive officer of the unit and native of Dover, Massachusetts. "This training demonstrates the validity of our capability."
Rice was responsible for the logistical and safety planning of Deep Blue.
"Diving is considered by the military to be a high-risk activity," he said. "By conducting training events like this, we actually reduce risk by becoming proficient."
The team mitigated risk for future operations by reacting to simulated, emergency scenarios throughout the exercise. The scenarios included unconscious divers, underwater injuries and decompression sickness, commonly known as the bends. Soldiers had to assess and react to each situation accordingly.
"Nobody wants to lose a brother or a sister, especially not with something that could have been avoided," said 1st Sgt. Tyler Dodd, the master diver of the team. "My philosophy is if my Soldiers have seen the scenarios play out, they're going to be more prepared to handle it in real time."
Master diver is the highest level of diving proficiency an enlisted Soldier can attain. As a master diver, Dodd is able to certify divers within his unit to conduct various diving operations without his supervision. Operation Deep Blue's mission included the certification of his diving supervisors.
"For me to be able to rely on my [Soldiers] to take out missions when I'm not there is a force multiplier," Dodd said.
The exercise also included operating the team's recompression chamber. The chamber, worth approximately $1 million dollars, simulates various ocean depths with air. As the theater's diving-emergency response team, the 511th Engineer Dive Detachment uses the chamber to treat military personnel and civilians suffering from decompression illnesses.
One of Rice's Soldiers treated a Kuwaiti diver during his last deployment here with a recompression chamber.
"With his training from exercises like Operation Deep Blue, he was able to respond to the incident, treat the Kuwaiti diver and prevent a potentially fatal injury," Rice said.
While USARCENT dive teams train and conduct missions near Kuwait Naval Base several times a year, divers can be tasked out anywhere in the area of operations. Soldiers from the dive team frequently support missions in countries like Jordan, Qatar, Oman and the United Arab Emirates. Some missions require dive units to travel country to country as force-protection assets for vessels transporting military cargo.
Large shipments of military cargo can be considered high-profile targets for terrorists, Rice said. Divers assure the mobility of the vessels as they travel to different countries in several ways, such as searching for underwater explosives and other obstructions that may prevent cargo delivery.
Divers honed their force protection skills by practicing various underwater tasks. The training included cutting wood with a chainsaw, slicing other material with an underwater torch and lifting and moving various objects from the bottom of the sea.
"It's an exhausting job," said Sgt. Christian Webber, an engineer diver with the unit.
As the divers performed their tasks underwater, the Soldiers on the vessel maintained the diver's life-support equipment. Trust between Soldiers is as vital as the diving-umbilical cables that supply the oxygen to the divers below.
"We have to rely on each other," Webber said. "We go through a lot together."
While the dive team relies on each other, USARCENT relies on the unique capabilities of U.S. Army divers to accomplish necessary missions.
"Our divers need to be able to operate in the most austere environments in the world," Dodd said. "It's important to do training like this."